Counter-revolution in Egypt

Following is the introduction to a forthcoming Socialist Action pamphlet by Jeff Mackler, “Revolution and Counter-revolution in Egypt: Lessons of the Arab Spring.”

Almost three years after the historic Jan. 25, 2011, mobilizations that led to the toppling of the U.S.-backed 30-year dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak, the once overflowing streets leading to Cairo’s famed Tahrir Square are barricaded on orders from the now high-flying new military dictator, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Posturing as the nation’s savior in the tradition of radical nationalist Gamel Abdel Nasser in 1954, General Sisi, (formerly Defense Minister and personal friend of overthrown President Mohammad Morsi) and his bloodlusting cohorts have systematically murdered some 5000 to 6000 Muslim Brotherhood members, according to MB leaders. All but a handful of the top and middle-ranking MB leaders are dead or imprisoned.

The barbed wire enclosed Tahrir Square is jammed with tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other military paraphernalia. This former site and symbol of mass resistance to military dictatorship has been intentionally transformed into the symbol of rule by brute force. It serves as a dire warning to any who would again return to demand bread, justice, and freedom.

No one is excluded from the ongoing broad and deep repression in Egypt today. Defenders of the MB are ostracized, beaten, and imprisoned—if not murdered outright. Simultaneously, almost all secular opponents of Morsi, including many of Egypt’s liberal and intellectual “democrats” and major sections of the purported left, cheer on the military and hail the MB repression. Egyptian society is tragically divided. Hatred and cries for vengeance, if not for the extermination of Islamists ”like rats,” toxically spew from virtually the entire media.

With few exceptions the streets have been abandoned by protesters, except for the beleaguered ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, who risk their lives when they cautiously take to the streets to demand the return of their leader, President Mohammad Morsi, who was ousted by a military coup and imprisoned, and then slated to face spurious charges of murder on Nov. 4. A defiant Morsi did appear in court that day and loudly proclaimed that he was the democratically elected president and that the court had no legitimacy. The disoriented judge immediately adjourned the kangaroo court proceedings, obviously to seek instructions from his military superiors.

The Egyptian Revolution has been decisively defeated, perhaps for years to come. The counter-revolution, which top U.S. government officials claim will provide “a second chance” at democracy, is triumphant. This Socialist Action booklet recounts the key events, turning points, and critical political lessons to be drawn by revolutionary socialists and all others who would challenge capitalist rule.

Egypt, among the most important and strategically located nations in the Middle East, was a living laboratory that tested the conflicting and contending ideologies that today seek basic social change in Egypt and around the world.

On balance, as the three essays assert, the revolutionary mass mobilizations that forced Mubarak’s resignation and demanded economic reform, democracy, and justice were essentially without any organized leadership or institutional forms other than small groups of radicalizing youth and students, intellectuals, and democratic-minded reformists of every stripe. With few exceptions all believed that their objectives could be achieved through new elections and the goodwill of whoever won.

There was a single exception. The Muslim Brotherhood, while sometimes persecuted and in part operating on the fringes of “legality,” maintained over decades a mosque-based infrastructure and the loyalty of some 10 million members. While they were latecomers to the Tahrir mobilizations, their election apparatus far surpassed all others. And, they were joined in the June 2012 Morsi election campaign by a “front” of some five “socialist” organizations, including the tiny Revolutionary Socialist group, that sought to portray Morsi and his Freedom and Justice Party as a democratic alternative to the candidate of the military. Indeed, Morsi was characterized by this “left” election front as the “right wing of the Egyptian Revolution.”

This designation carried with it the strong implication that the “first stage” of this Egyptian “revolution” was to be radical democratic in nature and would function within the confines of Morsi’s capitalist state while seeking to reform it in a revolutionary direction sometime in the unstated future.

This Socialist Action booklet explains in detail why this “two-stage” conception of revolution is fundamentally flawed and indeed can only lead to defeat and tragedy—the terrible reality in Egypt today. “In truth,” Jeff Mackler states in one article, “the fight for democracy, for majority rule, for the rule of the great majority against the elite capitalist plunderers, is inseparable from the fight for socialism. The democratic and socialist revolutions are in reality one and the same. The achievement of both requires a break with the minority capitalist state power in all its manifestations and the re-construction of society on a profoundly new and revolutionary basis. This includes the abolition of private property in the means of production and the establishment of a collective society run by the vast majority through their own organizations and in the interest of advancing the needs of the many as opposed to the profits of the corporate few.”

Egypt’s evolution since 2011, and indeed the developments in all nations of the Middle East and the Maghreb, where the mass forces of what became known as the Arab Spring courageously mobilized against repressive dictatorships, holds vital lessons for the future. All demonstrate in bold relief that the political crisis of our times does not reside in the inability of the working masses the world over to rise up against their oppressors in the tens and hundreds of millions despite the possibilities of brutal repression. Rather, the crisis is marked more than ever by the absence of a deeply rooted revolutionary socialist leadership prepared to challenge the capitalist order for power and establish a new society based on the institutionalized rule of the vast majority. The construction of this leadership in every nation on earth is the key task facing all revolutionaries today.

November 14, 2013.

Photo: AP